Free school dinner replacement scheme raises concerns over children’s health
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A voucher scheme for children who are missing out on free school meals during the coronavirus crisis is being launched by the Government in response to concerns voiced by parents and carers.
Parents and carers of children who are eligible for free school meals will receive a voucher worth £15 per week to spend at supermarkets.
The Department of Education is trying to get as many supermarkets on board as possible and among those already signed up are Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons, Waitrose and M&S.
However, some community leaders have raised concerns over how the voucher scheme is not guaranteeing a “hot and nutritious meal”, which is what was provided to them at school.
Jim Manning, secretary and trustee for the Whitton Youth Partnership, has been providing services for young people in Ipswich for more than 20 years now and has often seen children go hungry during school holidays and weekends.
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“It is good to see the voucher scheme is there,” he said. “The problem is we are not convinced if the money is available that the parents have the ability to provide the meals.”
“The cookery skills are just not there for some families, so even if given food they might not know what to do with it.”
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Some of the parents of children Mr Manning works with cannot read and so would struggle to cook off a recipe.
He added: “Many of our families rely on takeaway, ready meals and fast food – also, a lot of what you can buy in the supermarkets is very unhealthy.”
Tara Somers, CEO of Home Start in Suffolk, has her own concerns about the scheme and said the news was “good, but not brilliant”, citing similar fears that some families do not have the ability to cook a healthy meal.
“There is a lot of shame and embarrassment linked with signing up for free school meals,” she explained.
“Some parents won’t have signed up and will now be rushing to or won’t know how.
“The other issue some may face is budgeting as lot of families struggle to know what to do with a lump sum of money.”
Gavin Williamson, education secretary, said:“No child should go hungry as a result of the measures introduced to keep people at home, protect the NHS and save lives.
“That’s why we are launching this scheme to make sure children who usually benefit from free school meals still have access to healthy and nutritious meals while they are not attending school.”